After 6 weeks of backpacking Perú, we have some tips to share with you to help keep that budget under control.
- 1. Eat in the markets & look out for the Menú del Día
- 2. Consider alternative routes for Machu Picchu
- 3. Don’t book tours online (unless it’s the Inca Trail)
- 4. Don’t assume that higher costs mean better tours
- 5. Book accommodation directly
- 6. Use BCP ATMs
- 7. Weigh your laundry at your accommodation FIRST
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1. Eat in the markets & look out for the Menú del Día
Lunch is the main meal of the day in Perú so most places serve a 2-3 course Menú del Día (menu of the day) with a drink for a decent price. In the markets, you can find a menú for under 10 soles ($3USD / $4AUD). You will usually get a soup and a main dish from a limited selection and some places also include a small dessert. If you want to try some other dishes, the markets have a lot of Peruvian variety for around 10 – 15 soles a dish.
If you’re in Cusco, we highly recommend trying Greenpoint, a vegan restaurant which serves fresh and delicious food. The lunch menú del día is 15 soles ($4.5USD / $6AUD) and includes a drink, salad buffet, entree, main and dessert!!
2. Consider alternative routes for Machu Picchu
Most people know of the Inca Trail as the route to get to Machu Picchu (by the way, Machu Picchu means ‘old mountain’ in Quechua and Picchu is pronounced ‘pic-chu’. If you say ‘pich-chu’, you’re actually saying ‘old penis’).
However, there are plenty of alternative routes to suit various budgets and time constraints. So, what are your options?
Salkantay Trek: For those of you who LOVE to trek and perhaps have missed out on the Inca Trail, this is a great alternative. The 5-day trek is an ancient and remote footpath located in the same region as the Inca Trail where massive snowcapped mountains collide with lush tropical rain forests.
Min time needed: 5 days but there are 4-day options. If you are taking the bus back to Cusco, we recommend staying the night in Aguas Calientes after you’ve spent the day at Machu Picchu.
Cost: Around $250 USD
Inca Jungle Trek: For those adventure and thrill seekers who like to mix things up, this is the best value for money for a range of activities. Day 1 is downhill mountain biking for 2.5 hours and white water rafting. Day 2 is an all-day hike to Santa Teresa where you enjoy the hot springs. Day 3 is zip-lining and the walking from Hydroeletrica to Aguas Calientes. Day 4 is Machu Picchu. There is a 3-day option which omits the day 2 hike.
Min time needed: 3 days but we suggest the 4-day options as the hike is excellent! If you are taking the bus back to Cusco, we recommend staying the night in Aguas Calientes after you’ve spent the day at Machu Picchu.
Cost: $150USD through Peru Coca Travel (highly recommend) which included all activities and a bus ride back. The train was also an option for an extra $70USD. This is the cheapest deal we could find and there were others in our group who paid a lot more.
Train: The train doesn’t actually leave from Cusco bur rather from Ollantaytambo. You’ll take a bus to Ollantaytambo (included with your train pass), train to Aguas Calientes, stay the night, Machu Picchu the next day and you can take a train home on the same day.
Min time needed: 2 days
Cost: Minimum of $65USD each way; Machu Picchu entrance (adults – 128 soles ($38USD / $52AUD), students with ISIC card – 65 soles ($19USD / $26AUD)); accommodation and food. To save a bit of money, you could book the train there and take the bus back or vice versa.
Bus: Catch a bus from Cusco to Hydroelectrica, walk to Aguas Calientes (9 km flat), stay the night, Machu Picchu the next day, stay the night in Aguas Calientes, walk back to Hydroelectrica the following day and take the 2.30 pm bus back to Cusco.
Min time needed: 3 days but can be done in 2 (not recommended if you are taking the bus back as you will need to leave Machu Picchu at by midday. It is better to take the train back if you are in a rush and can’t stay the extra night).
Cost: Return bus trip (60 soles ($18USD / $25AUD); Machu Picchu entrance (adults – 128 soles ($38USD / $52AUD), students with ISIC card – 65 soles ($19USD / $26AUD)); accomodation for 2 nights and food.
Extra tip for Machu Picchu: It is prohibited to eat on the grounds of Machu Picchu but your ticket permits you to leave and re-enter 3 times. So, bring food and drinks in a backpack (you are not permitted to bring it in a plastic bag) and take a lunch (and toilet) break outside and come back in. Good chance to re-energise and not spend a fortune on food at Machu Picchu.
3. Don’t book tours online (unless it’s the Inca Trail)
Tour companies are often fear mongers and make it out as if everything is going to book out. It won’t. We met a lot of people who overspent on Machu Picchu for fear that they wouldn’t be able to book something upon arrival in Cusco. Besides the Inca Trail which is limited to 500 people per day so is often booked out up to 6 months in advance, the other options will usually have last minute availability, especially during low and shoulder seasons.
We suggest spending at least a week in Cusco and then arranging your tours the first day you get there. During low and shoulder seasons, you could even book the day before departure and it wouldn’t be a problem. You will find that the price you pay is around half what is advertised online by other companies.
We found this to be consistent with our Inca Jungle Trek, Rainbow Mountain and Colca Canyon Trek – all of which were booked last minute.
4. Don’t assume that higher costs mean better tours
You will find that besides some exclusive tours, there will be a mix of different companies grouped together on one tour. This also means that people have paid various prices for the exact same trip. Talk to other tourists, get recommendations for companies and gauge an average price before booking.
5. Book accommodation directly
We use generic booking websites to search for availability, reviews and cost and then email the accommodation directly. We found that most hostels had a lower price when we emailed them compared to the price on booking websites.
6. Use BCP ATMs
All the ATMs in Perú charge fees (and that’s on top of any fees your bank might charge you too). So, I did the hard work and tried every single ATM to determine the one with the best value. BCP allows you to withdraw 700 soles and charges 13.50 soles per transaction.
The other ATMs charge between 13 – 15 soles for transactions but only let you withdraw up to around 500 soles – no bueno. We also found that BCP was available pretty much everywhere except in Huacachina (and on that note, make sure you bring sufficient cash with you to Huacachina because there is only 1 ATM there).
7. Weigh your laundry at your accommodation FIRST
Ahhhh, laundry. Doing my own laundry is definitely at the top of the things I miss about home. It’s just not a fun experience, especially when a lot of lavanderias are dodgy. We found that most of the scales were used weren’t calibrated properly and was adding an extra kilo or 2. I was suspicious so I weighed our laundry at our hostel first and then took it to a lavanderia. I told them that the hostel weighed it and it was only so many kilos and stood my ground so they agreed to that weight. One guy tried to tell us that our 1 plastic bag of clothes weighed 9 kilos – that’s my entire backpack!
We loved Perú so much and hope that these tips help you save some money and have the best time!
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